It was a trip to Circuit of The Americas (COTA) that turned into a monumental race weekend for Ross Chastain and his Trackhouse Racing team. For the first time in his career, Ross Chastain drove his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Camaro ZL1 to victory lane to capture his first-career NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) win in the 2nd Annual EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix. The triumph comes after a string of strong finishes for the 29-year-old Florida native, including consecutive runner-up finishes.
“It’s insane. To go up against some of the best with AJ (Allmendinger) – I mean, I know he is going to be upset with me; but we raced hard, both of us, and he owes me one,” said Chastain. “But when it comes to a Cup win, man, I can’t let that go down without a fight. So, Justin Marks, Trackhouse, AdventHealth, the Moose. A million Moose members, they better be celebrating tonight all across the country and the world.
Chastain took the green of the 68-lap, 231.88-mile race from the 16th-starting spot. Battling for the lead throughout Stage Two, the team’s Crew Chief, Phil Surgen, brought the No. 1 ONX Homes/iFly Camaro ZL1 down pit road prior to the end of the second stage, giving Chastain a fourth-place spot to start the final stage. Piloting his Chevrolet-powered machine to the lead on the first lap of the final stage, Chastain survived last-lap chaos to capture the checkered flag at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn Texas road course.
In just the second season for the organization, the Chevrolet driver’s victory also brought Trackhouse Racing its first win in NASCAR’s premier series. Trackhouse Racing’s founder and owner, Justin Marks, is no stranger to the sport, going from a driver to ownership role when he started the organization at the beginning of the 2021 season.
With six points-paying races in the books for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, the Camaro ZL1 has recorded four wins to lead all manufacturers. Joining fellow Chevrolet drivers Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron on the win list, Chastain makes for the fourth different Chevrolet driver to have now claimed a spot in the 16-driver NCS Playoff field.
Circuit of The Americas holds a special place in Chevrolet’s NASCAR history, where the bowtie brand captured its unprecedented 800th all-time NASCAR Cup Series win in the series’ debut at COTA last season. Since that milestone victory, Chevrolet has gone on to capture its 40th NCS Manufacturer Championship and 33rd NCS Driver Championship. Now, with Chastain’s victory at COTA, Chevrolet sits at 818 all-time wins in NASCAR’s premier series, extending its win record over all manufacturers as the winningest brand in NASCAR.
Chastain led the bowtie brigade to four of the top-five and six of the top-10 finishing positions in the first of six road course circuit events on the schedule for the NASCAR Cup Series, the third time this season that the Camaro ZL1 has accomplished this feat. Alex Bowman drove his No. 48 Ally Camaro ZL1 to a runner-up finish, making it a 1-2 sweep for the Camaro ZL1. Chase Elliott, No. 9 Llumar Camaro ZL1, drove to a fourth-place finish, with Tyler Reddick, No. 8 3CHI Camaro ZL1 rounding out the Team Chevy top-five. Erik Jones, No. 43 FOCUSFactor Camaro ZL1, crossed the finish line in ninth; and Austin Dillon, No. 3 Bennett Camaro ZL1, came home tenth to give the bowtie brand an impressive six of the top-10 finishers. Chevrolet has now posted 18 top-five’s and 28 top-10’s thus far this season to lead all manufacturers.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues next weekend at Richmond Raceway with the Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday, April 3, at 3:30 p.m. ET. Live coverage can be found on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.
ROSS CHASTAIN, NO. 1 ONX HOMES/iFLY CAMARO ZL1; PHIL SURGEN, CREW CHIEF, NO. 1 ONX HOMES/iFLY CAMARO ZL1; AND JUSTIN MARKS, OWNER, TRACKHOUSE RACING, RACE WIN PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: If I could have your attention, we’re going to go ahead and start with our post-race media availability here for the second annual EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix.
And we are joined by the happy owner of the No. 1 Onyx Homes Chevrolet of Trackhouse Racing, that is Justin Marks. Congratulations. Some thoughts on your triumph here today.
JUSTIN MARKS: This was an ambitious thing to sort of dream up, and I asked a lot of people that had a lot of experience in this sport and seen a lot of teams come and go to trust me and to commit to Trackhouse. And so to be here not even — not even a year and a half really into our existence, I’m just proud of everybody that committed.
Every single one of these people, they own a piece of this victory. So it was always Ross. That’s what I told him when he got out of the car: It was always you. When the Ganassi buy-out happened, and he texted me as I got off of the press conference stage of the Hall of Fame, and he just wrote, “I want this.” He had to be patient with me while I let the dust settle, but we all were huge, huge believers in Ross’ talent.
We knew what he was capable of doing, and he has proved it the last month at Trackhouse. And I think we’ve really just opened a door for him and Phil and the 1 team moving forward.
I’m proud of everybody. Chevrolet, Onyx Homes and Moose and AdventHealth. It’s a really, really great day for us.
THE MODERATOR: We’re also joined by crew chief Phil Surgen. Congratulations on your win today. Walk us through the excitement there in the final lap from your perspective.
PHIL SURGEN: Thanks. A little too much excitement there for a little bit. We knew we had a really strong car all day, and Ross’s restarts were really good. Tyler got by us on one of those restarts late, and we had to fight back for the lead.
To come back and fight for the win with AJ, one of the best in the business, was great. And then that last lap was just crazy. I think going for the win on the last lap, everything is on the table. They muscled around, and we prevailed.
Q-I’ve got one for each. I’ll start with Justin. Congratulations on to both of you. Justin, you said that you had to get people to trust you and to believe in what you were selling. What’s your sales pitch? How did you convince them? How did you get good at this? You convinced Chip Ganassi to sell his whole team to you.
JUSTIN MARKS: Trackhouse is — it’s an investment in the people. The thing is this car — I really believed since day one that this car delivers an opportunity for these companies to feel like real teams and to really invest in teamwork, the way the 9 and the — I’m sorry. The way the 1 and the 99 work together and how everybody feels motivated and empowered.
The pitch was, let’s build a great team together, let’s do all of this together. That was the inside of the building pitch. The outside of the building pitch is this sport is ready for challengers. It’s ready for disruptors. It’s ready for people to come in and challenge the status quo and how we do things, have some fun, look good, try to be fast, win races, have a good time doing it.
I just have always been authentic about my mission. I just take a lot of pride in seeing everybody’s smiles and happiness today. The pitch was, Let’s just do something great together.
Q-Where is Pit Bull? Have you heard from him?
JUSTIN MARKS: I just talked to him on the phone. He said he is smashing a watermelon over his head and drinking champagne.
Q-Where is he doing that?
JUSTIN MARKS: I said I’ll join him as soon as I can.
Q-Phil, congratulations. I imagine when you hear that the team is being sold, it’s a little scary and there’s a lot of upheaval. Here you are running the best that this car has ever run since it’s essentially the same driver/crew chief combination. What’s the difference?
PHIL SURGEN: Last summer there was a little bit of an unknown there when the team gets bought, and you don’t know how things are going to shake out. Met with Justin pretty early on. Felt really good about what he had to say and felt great about the opportunity to work with Ross again and work with many of the same guys.
Last season we did a lot of building, and we got some performance out of the car, particularly the second half of the season.
It’s just determination. It’s hard work, and it’s assembling the right group of people. Right now we’ve got every component of it working well together.
We got the pit crew. We’ve got the road crew. We’ve got everybody at the shop. Obviously, Ross’ talent speaks for itself, but everything is just working great together right now. And we spent all the offseason focused on developing the Next Gen car and are able to come out of the gate really strong this year.
Q-Justin, I know you’re tweeting, but you’re checking them off as you go, right? From contenders to winners, now you have to fight for a Cup Series championship. What would that that mean for you guys to have a fight in winning a Cup Series championship?
JUSTIN MARKS: I don’t think we can put the cart before the horse. I think it just comes down to fundamentals. We just have to continue executing, taking advantage of our strengths and improving our weaknesses as much as we can.
Tomorrow these guys are going to be in the shop just thinking about Richmond, right? That’s the next one, right? Richmond? Whatever is next.
That’s the thing, right? What I say is it’s the aggregate of all the small things that make opportunities for big things to happen. Just to have an opportunity to be at this stage, on this stage, and to be able to compete at this level of the sport, I’m really, really lucky. Lucky that everybody committed to this.
We feel like I don’t want to use the word ‘championship’. We just got here, so it’s like we still have a lot to learn. And we haven’t been to a short track yet. We still have a lot to learn with these race cars.
We’ll just keep fighting along and doing the best that we can, and we’ll see where we end up at the beginning of the fall.
Q-Obviously, I didn’t see this coming, so I’m a little bit still confused about how you guys have done all this. Why do you guys have the speed? Is it that your drivers were this good all along, and they didn’t have the stuff to show it? Are the cars better than everybody else and that’s why you look good? Why is this happening?
JUSTIN MARKS: I think a lot of it has to did with this car showcasing the talent of the people behind it. I think that we were coming out of an era in the sport where you could engineer a piece of equipment that was so much — so far superior to everybody else’s, but now we do truly basically have the same stuff.
I say it’s an execution car. It’s a car that shines when people work together and really try to prepare well and methodically and think about it. It’s a driver’s car. We have two incredible race car drivers. I’ve said this about Daniel all along, and I’ve said it about Ross for ten years that I’ve known him. These are championship-caliber talents. We just need to get them in a spot where they can shine.
And Chevrolet is strong right now. Our preparation is on point. Everybody is super motivated, so we’re just very — workflow is super effective during the week. I say all that knowing there’s a piece of me that I don’t know really besides the fact that we just have really, really good people that are united and working hard and preparing well, executing well.
Q-I have two questions. First for Justin. What do you remember about your first conversation with Ross about driving for Trackhouse? And for both of you, what have the last three weeks been like with this near miss, near miss, near miss, going and having that happen? What does this feel like after all of that?
JUSTIN MARKS: My first conversation with Ross was — I asked him — you know, obviously, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of the week that we announced the Ganassi buy-out was confusing for a lot of people. So I had to talk to a lot of people.
Ross didn’t really know which way was up. Am I a part of this? Do I have a future with the company? What’s the plan here?
I told him to be patient because we just tried to keep the buy-out so quiet that really when we went in to make the announcement, there was really only 12 people in the world that knew about it, and it was shocking for a lot of people.
So there was a lot of work we had to do in the weeks afterwards. And then when we got to the point where, okay, the dust is settled, we know sort of which way is up and we’re planning for what’s next, I told Ross when he got out of the car on the front straightaway, It was always you, it was always you.
I called him. I was up in Michigan, and I called him, and I told him that I’ve always been a huge believer in your talent. I think that you’re prime to break through. I want to put you on a two-year deal so you’ve got some job security. This is your race team. Let’s go win.
He just dove right in and committed, and you see the result of it. The last couple of weeks have been just — you’re just seeing the fruits of your labor, and I just think it’s made everybody in the company believe that great things are possible for this enterprise, and we’re getting closer. We just keep doing it, our day will come.
THE MODERATOR: We are now joined by our race winner Ross Chastain. We’ll continue on with questions.
PHIL SURGEN: The last three weeks have been really reassuring for us. It proved that all the efforts that everybody at Trackhouse have put in in the last six months were — everything they were doing was right.
Like Justin alluded to, everybody in every department is doing the right things, and it gives you that confidence that it is truly the right things, and the long hours and the efforts that you are putting in are for something. It’s reassuring to know that you can get the results. It’s hard when you don’t.
Q-I wouldn’t mind if both Justin and Ross answer this, but it’s for Justin. There’s going to be a lot talked about. Was the move kosher? Was it fair? Was it over the line? Is there anything that really is over the line with this Playoff system?
JUSTIN MARKS: I struggle to find what’s too much. Today was not different than how you see so many of these races end. They’re so hard to win, and it’s just sort of like the way people think about racing each other and attacking the race track, it changes throughout the race.
These races almost always have late race restarts, and there’s so much on the line that you just get to a point where it’s, like, all right, who just wants it the most.
NASCAR has proven over the last four decades that they’re going to let these races play out like they may, and they’re going to let it self-police. These guys all wanted it. There’s always contact at the end of these races.
Honestly, today is just not that much different than what you see a lot of times on green-white-checkereds at these race tracks. You take that white flag, and it’s like who wants it the most? Who wants it the most?
Ross got beat up a little bit today too. I want to make sure people remember, Ross got used up a little bit today a couple of times. And when the money is on the line and a Playoff spot is on the table, you do what you got to do. That’s my opinion.
Ross, your take?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I didn’t draw it up that way in my head, but, yeah, I did what I did. I stand by it.
Q-Two questions for Ross. First of all, congratulations on your win. It’s a long time coming. My first question is, you know, what were some of the lessons you learned from racing for JD Motorsports and Ganassi that’s helped you with Trackhouse Racing?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Old tires, scuffs. Yeah, it’s everything. It’s race craft. It’s just laps. I got the Xfinity Series in in 2015, and I didn’t know how to turn right at all, and that was when Justin was in the series quite a bit on those tracks.
I would go to him. I knew him from the start of my career in 2011 with Stacy Compton, and I just kept racing. I didn’t really have any great success at it, but it was just laps and race craft, and it all came together today.
Q-How did you keep your faith up knowing you went through those ups and downs, especially when you weren’t sure if you were going to go up to Ganassi with what happened, and then you get this opportunity with Trackhouse, and obviously excelled with it?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah, there were some days there where I didn’t know. Turns out Justin pretty much knew all along. When the sale happened, I texted him. I was at a wheel force test with Chevy and said I want this, and he said I know. Give me some time.
To me that time should have been five minutes. I was, like, okay, just respond and say you got the job, but took some days and weeks. We were talking and figuring it out, and this is big business. This is big business racing, and this is a huge industry. You don’t just get the ride because you want it. I get that.
But I don’t know how I could have ever scripted my career and the people that I met along the way, the people that I hurt along the way, the people that I wronged along the way, but it’s all got me here one way or the other.
Part way through last year, I’ve said it in several interviews. I don’t know why I keep bringing it up. Because it helped me, but Mike Metcalf gave me a book called “It Takes What It Takes”. And it reset my whole mindset.
I didn’t get worked up today when we had the lead. I didn’t get too high, and I didn’t get too low whenever we lost the lead to Tyler. It just is what it is. And thank neutral and go get it in the next opportunity.
Q-I bet you can guess what I’m going to revisit. Yesterday I asked you about winning on a road course, and you said, I’m not a road course driver. I’m not good at road courses. Look what you did today. How special is it for you to get that first win on a road course?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I’ve went to school when every driver is working to be the best race car driver that they can be, and I have been no different.
Over the years I tried to be better, and Chevy gives us a ton of support. Once I became a backed Chevy driver in 2018, the resources I had at my disposal were incredible. I’ve tried to never go to sleep without using one of their resources, and it’s cost me other things in life and creature comforts of personal life.
I’ve never sacrificed — no driver does, but I never sacrifice anything that I couldn’t. If there’s just one little thing I could do with the group of boys and girls that Chevrolet gives to us drivers, I just know what it was like without that, and I realize now how unfair that is, right, but they give us drivers the resources to become better.
It might be something very small, and there’s been a few things I’ve learned that are huge. I’ve put in work. I’ve came out here to COTA both years ahead of the race and rented — one was a Skip Barber car, and one was just another race car. And it was just to get laps at this place. And I just did it last week, and it’s just — I just need to keep getting better.
I didn’t feel like I could come here without showing up ahead of time and getting some laps. It’s not always convenient, but I want to be — everybody does, we want to be the best race car drivers we can be. Really the job never stops.
Q-I would assume then you wouldn’t have necessarily years ago thought you were going to get your first win at a road course?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Several years ago I just wanted to — I thought I had found my niche in the sport. I thought I found a comfortable spot. I thought I could make a living. It wasn’t glamorous by any means, but it was a way to stay in the sport that I loved and do what I loved.
And I was preparing myself to get more involved with the farm back home and probably live in Florida more, travel to the races on the weekends, and not put a lot of effort, put more effort into the farm during the week, and then come back to the races.
I was a few years out from that, but I had come to terms with that, and then in 2018 that all changed.
Q-Phil, has Ross’ driving elevated, or has the new car elevated his driving? What do you see in him?
PHIL SURGEN: Obviously, been running good this year. Better this year with the new car than the old car, but I don’t think it’s elevated his driving.
You look back at a lot of the — particularly the road course events last year. We came here and finished fourth in the rain, and the other road courses were a high point for us as well.
I don’t think it’s elevated it. It’s always been there. We’ve been working hard to put the car under him that he needs, and it showed today.
THE MODERATOR: Phil, congratulations. We’ll move you along to your next stop. We’ll continue on the floor.
Q-One for Ross and one for Justin. Ross, you and I have talked through the years about the good and the bad and things like that. How does a watermelon farmer from Florida process their first NASCAR Cup Series win, making the Playoffs with that, and then going ahead with this new team building your career?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I don’t know how to process it yet. I sit here, and I look at this, and I think back to the stories of our family. They were in south Georgia for a long time. My great granddad moved the family south to Florida. My granddad two years in to living in Punta Gorda, Florida, enlisted in the service, he and his brother, because it was going to be a better life.
You think about that, and that’s unfathomable for me. They came back, built the farm up. My dad and uncle became old enough to farm on their own. They’ve grown the farm to an incredible spot. And when you just think about agriculture right now, it’s scary. We don’t have crop insurance. In our area it’s not a thing. I think it’s coming down the pipe, but it really keeps the number of watermelon farmers to a very small group of us, probably five or six, there’s probably ten. We just honed in on watermelons as the family business. It started eight generations ago. Really before that 12 generations ago they were farming, but back then everybody farmed. We stuck with it, for better or worse, and every generation has stayed with it.
When I look at that, and I think about what my great grandfather and farther back and then my granddad, what he has lived through, it’s incredible that we’ve been able to get into this sport.
My dad liked it. Did some hobby racing. Got me into it. Mark Martin, which was here today, came by my car. Mark Martin the NASCAR driver came by my car and gave me a fist-bump and said, You’re awesome, with some other words. I love what you are doing, and keep being bad to the bone. He said some other words.
I was, like, wow. His son Matt was the reason I wanted to race. They raced at 417 at my local track in The Fast Kid Series. Bobby Diehl ran it. And we ran the next race. It was Matt’s last race.
To think back to the farming and then tie that into the racing, how my career has went, it’s just like there was never — I wanted to race, and that’s all I wanted to do. All this extra stuff now and to get to talk about watermelons on a national level, get to talk about agriculture in a positive light.
It’s a scary world, and a small minority of people are very vocal, and they think that farmers are trying to kill them and hurt them, and it’s just not the case. We’re trying to feed the world.
It’s a very small number of people in the world that grow the crops that feed this world and feed this population worldwide, so it’s a thankless job for the farmers. The real farmers. I’m just the one that gets to talk about it now, but I think for farmers and small racers everywhere, this is a big win. Obviously, I think so.
Q-Justin, we know you are also a race car driver and pretty darn good on road courses. You have your own team. Have you considered getting a third car going just for a couple of one-offs to try it out?
JUSTIN MARKS: No. I would like to drive the car. I think it would be fun to drive the car, but I think those days have passed me by, at least at this level.
I have a Trans-Am car, and I’ll go have some fun. But I think what’s really interesting about today is — Ross alluded to it a little bit — it kind of makes sense. I came up road racing, and I never really got the car figured out on the ovals in NASCAR and really tried to develop my racing craft.
Through that process Ross and I spent a lot of time together at the race tracks, and I tried to help him where I could help him and watched him get faster and faster and faster.
For us to come and for him to be the one that delivered the first win for this company at a road course is just — it’s just kind of a cool story. It just kind of makes sense. It’s kind of wild.
ROSS CHASTAIN: It makes sense? I don’t think it makes sense.
JUSTIN MARKS: Makes sense to me.
I love racing. I love race cars. I always have since I was four years old, as much today as at any point in my career. And I made a decision a couple of years ago that if I was going to fly to the top of the heights of this sport, I was going to have to do it on this side, not in the race car, and we have.
Q-Ross, the watermelon you smashed today, was that the watermelon you started the season with?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No, no, it didn’t last. No. That one was actually last week. We got rid of that one and got a new one.
ROSS CHASTAIN: We buy them at the grocery store just like everybody else does. My food comes from the grocery store, and our watermelons for NASCAR Cup Series victories do too.
Q-Your dad wasn’t here. You talked to him on FaceTime, but your mom was here. Can you just share what it was like interacting with them for the first time after this? What did you tell them?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I don’t know how to put it into words. Obviously, they were the first two, right? Yeah, I wish my dad was here. So with our farm, him and my brother, Chad — my dad Ralph and my brother Chad, they farm and run JDI Farms. And there’s five full-time people, and we bring in a crew to plant, to water the plants, plant the plants, harvest the plants.
If Chad comes to the race, my dad stays back, and if my dad comes to the race, Chad stays back, and Chad spots. Chad is the one, he raced at Watkins Glen for Niece Motorsports last year, and it’s my dad stayed back to keep the farm going. No different than any other business: if the boss is away, the mice will play, right?
You got to stay on everybody, and plants are in the ground, and we’ll start harvesting in a few weeks. This is our go time to grow the watermelons. So, yeah, I wish he was here, but my mom is here, and she’s just supported me the whole way.
That was the closest I came to crying after the race and just now just thinking about she doesn’t get to come to as many as she wants to. She’s a traveling nurse, so she’s working an assignment now in north Georgia doing what she wants to do, right? She likes to take care of people, and she wants to save lives, and she’s worked through COVID and never backed down and has actually saved lives.
For her to take time out of her schedule to come and to work her work schedule around to be here, it’s not lost on me. Chad comes and spots, and hopefully gets to race a little more. And we’re just racers. So I wish dad was here, wish a lot of people were here, but that’s not how the world works.
Q-I have a couple more for Ross. When you hear that Ganassi is being sold, do you think my chances of winning a Cup race are not good because you don’t know what it’s going to do to that time, and you don’t know what your future is?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No, that thought didn’t cross my mind. It was more the text I got a few hours before was Justin bought Chips. I said, I hope you mean Doritos.
JUSTIN MARKS: What did you say?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I said I hope you mean Doritos. I knew exactly what it meant, but I had — my blind humor was, and it was instant. I looked over at Darrian Grubb, who was sitting next to me. We were at the wheel force test.
I said, do you know?
He is, like — I looked at him.
He said, What’s wrong? I said, Do you know?
I showed him the text, and he is, like, I got to make a call. Then I made a call. Yeah, it’s for real.
Once I knew it was Justin, I knew I had a shot, but I’ve been around enough to know, in the small scale I’ve seen the business side of this, and I know the numbers that it takes to fund these deals. I just didn’t know what this meant.
Yeah, there was some definite questions, and the answer I got was some questions just aren’t ready to be answered.
No, did I think I would never win a Cup race? That thought did not cross my mind. I just didn’t know if I would ever — more it was I didn’t know if I would ever drive in Cup again.
Q-Did that text come from Spire, I guess?
ROSS CHASTAIN: T.J.
Q-Does the fact that AJ isn’t running full-time and isn’t trying to get a Playoff spot, does that go through your head at all and influence the move that you made?
ROSS CHASTAIN: No, it’s just a race car. I know who I’m racing around. I’m aware of my surroundings. And honestly, through the carousel I thought with Alex to my right and AJ ahead of me, I didn’t think there was a way to win. When we got to 19, everything happened, and it was not the plan.
The plan was stay out front when we took the white, and I just babied it. I eased it into 12 too much, and he got to me. It only took a small little bump in 15. I was so loose through there all day. You saw it in qualifying. It’s where I slipped up and missed the fast five and was managing that all day, and it only took a small little bit.
No, I don’t race anybody any different.
I’ve cost AJ a win at Daytona in the Xfinity Series, and he was obviously a quarter mile away from winning here. He has taught me a lot, and I’m sure that our friendship will hurt for this. I feel like I had started to win some of his friendship back, and just being nice to each other when you see each other. It took a while.
I hate that because I’ve lived through that in my career for 12th place in Xfinity. I’ve fought, and I’ve roughed people up and gotten into people. I’ve wrecked Justin Marks. He was going to win Road America in 2016, 2017. I wrecked him and James Davidson for no reason. It’s not lost on me that I make some of the same mistakes. It’s just staring down a Cup Series win. I just couldn’t let that go.
Q-My question is, with the last four races you’ve had four top three finishes. What do you attribute your recent success in the NexGen car, and can you carry this momentum all the way to Phoenix in November?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I don’t know. You never know your next race how you’re going to run. This car is so volatile to drive. One bottom-out in the car one time at California, and I hit the wall almost head on and destroyed it. Kicked off our season in the hole.
It’s no guarantees. We have to keep working hard. We’ve had this talk after the third — the first, third, and first second, I guess or maybe even after Vegas I think because Daniel had ran good at California. Then we ran good at Vegas. And Ty Norris got in front of the shop and said, Look, this is not the time to stop. This is not the time to rest on what we’re doing. Yes, it’s great, but this is what we’re here to do. We’re winners. Believe it. You keep building the cars like this, Daniel and Ross can win.
It hasn’t slowed down, and I don’t expect it to slow down.
Q-How do you stay neutral now?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Man, it’s not easy, but that’s the whole point, right? You have to work at it. It’s not easy in the car to not get excited when I take the lead. It’s not easy to get down whenever I lose the lead.
It’s not. It’s hard. This stuff is hard. Mentally thinking the right things for me in those moments are so challenging, and it’s something that I’ve just had to work at. No different than doing push-ups or air squats or running or biking. Mentally I have to work at it because I’m not good at that.
I feel like just like I have to work to be a good road course racers, to turn right. Turning left kind of came natural. I will say that. From an early age I felt like guys I would race against a lot of times tried too hard, but I could race with anybody growing up, and mentally I didn’t realize that until the last few years that that’s a job. That’s a workout. That takes effort.
It’s easy to get down. It’s easy to get depressed. We live this glamorous life, and we fly all over and race cars for a living, and everybody in this room covers it, and we all live this life, but everybody is fighting stuff. Everybody has things that pull at them. It’s easy to get down.
Fighting that, you have to — I have to fight it. I have to, no, get that out. Back to the basics. Okay. Do I need to warm my tires? Do I need to keep the engine cool? What gear am I in? I’m dropping the clutch to fire behind the pace car and about to lose my spot because the ignition is off. Quit messing up. Focus. How much brake temperature do I need? What can I control? That’s how I stay neutral.
Q-Ross, was that your brother? I’m assuming that was Chad that you picked up.
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah.
Q-What was that moment like? What did you guys say? Then I have a quick follow-up.
ROSS CHASTAIN: We were screaming. You know, I just couldn’t leave him back there. He supported my entire career. We’re six years apart. He watched me race growing up. His racing car just didn’t have the opportunities that I did and the investment it takes to get going as a kid at 18 years old or now 16 for the Truck Series in some races. It’s only going up, and it’s just astronomical.
It’s one of those things that the fact that he is — we’re brothers. We’re just, it’s us. We have a big family, and it starts at the top with our grandparents, our Mima and granddaddy on my dad’s side, our Mima and Papa on my mom’s side. To have all four we know we’re lucky, but what they’ve built into our family, the family that they’ve built is — I just couldn’t leave him back there.
As soon as I got done doing my burnouts and in one, I was, like, Chad where are you at? Get out on the track. Then I drove slow. I didn’t do any burnouts with him. I just eased around the track, but I wasn’t going to leave him back there and make him fight his way into the track. Get in. We’re going. We won because he is my brother and I love him.
Q-When will you let it soak in, and how will you celebrate?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I don’t know. I don’t know that that question is ready to be answered.
JUSTIN MARKS: That will probably be the topic of discussion on the flight home?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Yeah.
JUSTIN MARKS: We will celebrate.
Q-Justin, as much as Ross won the race, Suarez dominated stage one, led all 15 laps. Circumstances prevented him from being contending for the win, but obviously he had a solid start to the day, and obviously, showing the same kind of speed that Ross has shown all year.
JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah. Super, super proud of the 99 team. Daniel was very focused this week and put a lot of pressure on himself to try to deliver a win today, and circumstances dictated otherwise.
He wants it really, really bad, and I know that it’s coming for him soon. He has a ton of speed. He has a great team behind him. We’re all behind him. He lost his power steering with 28 laps, had no power steering the last 28 laps of this race. He was a warrior and soldier to finish this thing.
He has a lot of fight in him. He is not going to give up until we get him in Victory Lane. I think both of our cars will be in the Playoffs this year. We just got to make sure we put them in that position.
Q-This is going to seem weird. Daniel, last year it was all him. This team started with him. I’ve seen this happen before. I saw it happen with your buddy Shank last year when Helio got the first win. Could Daniel be disappointed that he didn’t get the first win?
JUSTIN MARKS: Yeah, of course. I think he is gutted today. Especially after leading every lap in the first stage and winning it, and he was so early in the process of building Trackhouse that I think in his mind he was always going to be the guy that was going to deliver our first win. I think that’s hard on him.
But in a way I always try to take the long view on this stuff. These are our guys. These are our drivers. We’re building a team around both these guys, and that’s what I’ll tell him this week is you have an awesome opportunity to win Richmond in five days from now, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.
These guys are all so competitive. We’ve done a good job at Trackhouse building two teams that really, really help each other. But when you distill that all the way down to the glory of winning a race and your first career race and sticking a Chevy in the Playoffs, it’s hard. It’s hard to navigate that teamwork, that selflessness and all that.
He is gutted. He came over and gave Ross a hug. He understands the mission here, and he is probably already thinking about Richmond. And I’m excited to see what he is going to do the next couple of weeks. Sure, it’s human nature.
Q-For the record, how many Ganassi people did you keep? How much of this is old Ganassi?
JUSTIN MARKS: I think we have 128 people on the payroll, and 110, 105? Really a lot of them. It was important for me to keep a lot of those people because they know that building, they know workflow in that building, they’re used to working together. It’s a pretty tall mountain to climb if you put 120 people together that have never worked together and say, Go do this.
There was some attrition. There were some people in the company that didn’t see it and went to go do something else, and that’s fine. The group that was left is fully, fully bought in. I’m really happy for all of them.
Q-Do you count Ross in that number, by the way, of 105 people that you —
JUSTIN MARKS: Oh, yeah, for sure. Yeah. He raced out of that building, you know?
Q-I didn’t know if he is independent because you didn’t…
JUSTIN MARKS: No, absolutely.
Q-So, Ross, he has said several times that it was always you, but it had to be — he had to be quiet and do things quietly. He also said you texted him that as he was leaving the stage at the press conference. Why did you want all in, and how did you convince him? I guess he didn’t have to be. It was always you.
ROSS CHASTAIN: I didn’t convince him. He already knew. It was important to just — I have a good group around me, and it was like, What do we do? I had to fight off the fear. They asked at the wheel force test, Are you ready to get back in? I said, No, I need ten minutes. Ten turned into 30. They’re, like, We’ve got to get going. I said, You don’t want me driving your car right now.
Once I sent the text — this sounds funny. I’ve done all I can do. He knows. He will see it when he sees it, but I still have a job to do here, so we finished out the day.
Q-What did the text say?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I want this.
Q-What did Daniel say?
ROSS CHASTAIN: Out there? Everything is a blur. Good job, proud of you. Yeah. I can’t believe I still have a voice, honestly. My right hand hurts from high-fiving and hugging people and slapping people. My back is probably bruised from all the punches I got in the back, slaps.
Q-Ross, I have two questions for you. Your journey within NASCAR to this point started July 29th, 2011, in a Truck race at Indianapolis Raceway Park. At what point in the last 11 years since that night did you allow yourself to believe that what you did today could happen, would happen, was possible?
ROSS CHASTAIN: I’m a good couch racer. I believed for a long time, but Justin asked me on the front stretch, Do you believe yet? I would say that I still struggle with that.
Yeah, I don’t view myself as a Cup Series winning race car driver. I just feel like I have to work to get there, and I’m not there yet. There’s so many mistakes I make.
There’s mental, but physical. There’s the shifting, the braking, just the feedback in practice. There’s so many ways to mess this stuff up, and I haven’t done it perfect yet. I’ve learned to think neutral and just, okay, don’t get too worked up if I do something wrong. Just right back to it. It hasn’t happened yet.
Q-You didn’t get your first real chance in race-winning equipment until the last five years or so. You’ve been in everything a driver could want or need to drive to get to this point. What’s your message to drivers who are currently where you used to be in back marker cars? What’s your message to them today?
ROSS CHASTAIN: There is no right or wrong way to do this. You see guys every year take a different path. If you don’t have the resources to go rent or get in or you’re not hired to drive something really good and in the lower series, it’s just the economics of this sport. You kind of have to bring something.
Wherever you can plug in, I mean, I’m a proponent of starting out. You race. You just race everything you can. As long as you’re at the track, you have a chance to — you just never know, right? I’ve carried around an extra set of driving stuff in case somebody got sick, and I’ve blown up in races and started races and then gotten in somebody else’s truck to finish the race for them.
You just have to keep going. If you are bought in — you have to buy in. You have to live in Mooresville or the area. You just have to be there.
Something comes up and you meet a crew chief and run into him at lunch, and he is, like, Hey, we don’t have a driver or his money fell through. I don’t have anything, but I’ll drive it. That’s how the Mario — that’s how the DGM deal.
That’s how I drove for Mario Gosselin yesterday was last Friday we’re headed to Atlanta, and he is looking for somebody with some sponsorship, and I’m, like, well, I don’t have anything, but I’ll drive it. He was, like, You’ll drive it? Yeah. Mario, yeah, I want to race. I want to race.
He couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t believe that he let me drive. I think that it’s surreal that I get to drive race cars for a living, so if you are able to do that in this sport, if you can pay your bills, and you have to give up a lot. You have to give up a personal life.
Some guys balance both. I’ve never been able to balance both. I’m 29 and single and just chasing race cars. I know it sounds silly to say, but that’s a conscious effort to do that.
THE MODERATOR: Justin, Ross, congratulations. Tremendous win today. Good luck next week at Richmond.
story and photo courtesy of Chevrolet
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